Tokyo / Washington:
Fears of the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant rose on Thursday, after the first case was reported in the United States, and the Japanese central bank warned of the economic pain, while countries are responding with stricter containment measures.
The first known case in the United States was a fully vaccinated person from California who returned to the United States from South Africa on November 22 and was tested positive seven days later.
President Joe Biden is working on the US strategy to combat COVID-19 this winter, and informed sources on the subject told Reuters that a step will be to extend the requirements for travelers to wear masks by mid-March. An official announcement is expected on Thursday, sources said.
The White House also intends to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors.
U.S. airlines have been told to hand over the names of passengers arriving from areas of South Africa affected by Omicron, according to a letter from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seen by Reuters.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, which was first found on November 8 in South Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries.
Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said Wednesday it could take two weeks or more to gain insight into how easily it spreads, the severity of the disease it causes and whether it can avoid vaccines available in present.
The National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa said early epidemiological data suggested that Omicron had managed to avoid some immunity, but existing vaccines should continue to protect against severe disease and death.
The epidemiologist of the World Health Organization (WHO), Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing that the data should be available “in a few days” about the contagion of Omicron.
The CEO of BioNTech said that the vaccine he makes in partnership with Pfizer could provide strong protection against severe diseases from Omicron.
Early indications that Omicron could be significantly more contagious than previous variants have shaken financial markets, fearing that new restrictions could halt a temporary recovery from the economic devastation of the pandemic.
Japan and Australia’s key stock market indexes weakened in morning trading on Thursday, after major Wall Street averages fell more than 1% on Wednesday as investors reacted to the first case in the US and concerns rising inflation.
Hitoshi Suzuki, a member of the Bank of Japan’s board of directors, said Japan’s economic recovery may miss expectations if the spread of the Omicron variant is detrimental to consumption or supply disruptions persist.
“If the impact of supply constraints is greater or lasts longer than expected, there is a risk that economic growth will exceed expectations even further,” Suzuki said.
The governor of the Philippine central bank gave a more optimistic tone.
“We are not so concerned about … the new variant. I think there is too much exaggeration about its impact,” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno told a news conference.
About 56 countries have been implementing travel measures to protect themselves from Omicron since November 28, the WHO said.
In the latest restrictions, South Korea on Thursday lifted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated travelers for two weeks as the daily number of coronavirus cases rose to a new high. South Korea on Wednesday confirmed the first five cases of the Omicron variant.
Indonesia has also tightened border borders, extended quarantine and restricted toll road traffic in a precautionary move to limit the spread of the Omicron variant if it reaches the largest country in Southeast Asia.
The United States has banned almost all foreigners who have been to one of the eight countries in South Africa.
The European Union has anticipated the launch of the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 a week by 13 December, as the president of the European Union’s executive body has said there is a “race against the clock” to avoid it. the new variant.
“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.
The United Kingdom and the United States have both expanded their recall programs in response to the new variant, although the WHO says rich countries should instead share more vaccines with vulnerable people in poorer countries, where variants are most likely to occur as long as inoculation rates are low.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is published in a syndicated stream.)